A Quick Guide to Moving to Spain

It’s that time of year again: auxiliar placements are right around the corner, and then starts the mad dash to pull together paperwork, get a visa  and book flights to La Peninsula.

I’ve said it once and I will say until se me caiga la baba: DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

To make it easier on you, here’s a quick guide to the most important steps when considering moving to Spain:

Legal Matters

The two most practiced law systems in modern society are:

  • Common law – This is where the laws are uncodified, so no compilation of laws and statutes exists. This is where legislative decisions are generally based on precedent; what has happened before in similar cases. These are then compiled and referred to in later cases, meaning judges play an incredibly leading role in the law of Common Law countries like America and Britain. Common Law systems use two parties and a jury to decide the outcome of the case, which a judge presides over and gives the appropriate sentence.
  • Civil Law – Civil Law is codified. This means there is a regularly updated law code which lists all possible reasons to be brought before a court and the applicable process and sentence for each offence. This is far more structured than a Common Law system, as each case has a set punishment. This gives the judge a different job, as they will need to investigate the case, establish the facts and give the appropriate ruling from the appropriate framework themselves. This makes the judge’s work less influential on the overall law system. This is more like Spain’s legal system.

As the US and UK have a more Common Law system, it can be quite a shock moving to Spain where there is more of a Civil Law system in place. This affects everything from property to taxation and health systems, and there are laws you need to be aware of when moving or buying a second home.

Before you leave

There are a number of things you need to take care of before you leave the country.

Learn (some of) the language

It’s only polite to learn the language of a country before you visit. Not only will it allow you to fully immerse yourself in the culture, but it will make communication and day-to-day life much easier. Even if you only learn some basic phrases before moving, knowing some language will show you’re making the effort, and this can go a long way. Moreover, rural and non-tourism areas will be populated only by people who only speak Spanish or a local dialect.

Passport

You’ll need a valid passport to travel to Spain, much as you would any other foreign country. It’s always advisable to have more than six months left before it expires when you travel, especially if you’re planning on moving around Europe in that time as it negates the risk of your passport running out while you’re out of the country.

Visas

There are a number of different reasons why someone would move to Spain – to study, to work, to retire – and these all require different visas. Outstaying or having the wrong visa can cause problems when you try to leave the country, as passport control will be able to see you’ve broken the terms of your visa. This is why it’s important to know what kind of visa you need and stick to its terms. To see which visa you need, and how to get it, contact COMO Consulting Spain.

Notify everyone that you’re moving

If you’re moving to Spain to live, you’ll need to let everyone know. This includes the Post Office so they can redirect your mail, your bank, life insurance, council and any organizations that might need to know. Sign up for Skype, Line, Whatsapp and any other channel that will allow you to communicate with everyone back home.

When you arrive

NIE

The first thing you’ll need when considering a move to Spain is an NIE – Número do Identificación de Extranjeros (Foreigners’ Identification Number). A NIE is for anyone who isn’t a Spanish National, and is used for buying land, if you’ve inherited a property in Spain, opening a bank account or applying for a mortgage (among other things). The intricacies of applying for a NIE are varied and extensive, but see this guide on applying for a NIE to find out more.

Register with your local town hall

After getting your NIE, you need to register at your local town hall as living at your new address in the area, called an empadronamiento. This will similar to the electoral role in Britain, and will allow you to buy or sell a car, apply for a NIE, register a child into school and apply for a local health insurance card. Note that only fully-fledged Spanish citizens can vote in local and national elections.

Health care

Spain has a health care system similar to the UK’s, as there is a free health care system in place which as a non-Spanish national, you will need to sign up for. Despite this, around 18% of people opt for private health care, which is roughly double the amount of those in the UK. This is of course different to American health care, where you have to pay for insurance. For a more comprehensive guide to Spain’s health system, see here.

If you’re working with the auxiliar program, you’ll receive private health care from your assigned province along with a booklet about coverage. 

Living in Spain is worth the hassle of getting all your ducks (can we just go ahead and say patas negras) in a row. By anticipating what you’ll need to do before take off and once you arrive will help make the transition smoother.

For everything else, check out COMO Consulting Spain, my expat in Spain site.

On Nostalgia and Expat Life

It always creeps up on me – whether it’s seeing the plastic grocery bags and hearing the clinking of bottles from within on Thursday night as I ride home from the academy, or passing the trendy bars from which people overflow, gintoncitos in hand, onto the sidewalk in El Arenal.

Sigh. Nostalgia always gets to me.

My life as an expat and guiri in Spain has seen its up and its downs. For several years, Spain was a momentary pause between college and real life, a hiccup of time to travel, learn Spanish and enjoy my early 20s.

Then Spain became my long-term plan, and things changed.

Just last week, the Novio and I were talking about looking for a house to eventually start a family. In talking numbers, mortgages and neighborhoods, I had to tell my head to stop spinning. What happened to renting and dealing with ugly, heavy furniture and noisy roommates and hustling to pay the Internet bill?

Did I grow up that fast? Surely I didn’t do it overnight, but when did I start to feel so….adult?

Danny and Javi visited at the end of February, and Javi caught me off guard when he asked, “Do you miss your life as an auxiliar de conversación?” over a plate of croquetas. Without even thinking about it, I said no. Turns out, Danny does.

I got to thinking about it while they had a siesta later that afternoon. Did I miss working 12 hours a week as a job where I didn’t do much but speak in English to a bunch of teens and take advantage of a few free coffees a week?

Well, yes and no. 

Did I miss having a job that was fun and carried little responsibility?

Yes and no.

Did I miss having my afternoons free for siestas, flamenco class and coffee with the Novio? Hell yes.

Did I miss fretting over whether or not my private classes would cancel on me and leave me without money enough for groceries and bus rides? Hell no.

The first three years in Seville were some of my best. I made friends from around the world, spent my many long weekends lugging a backpack on overnight bus rides and budget flights, stayed out until the sun came up or my feet couldn’t take it anymore. It was my second shot at studying abroad and at squeezing another year out of “learning” as if Spain were my super senior year.

Dios, was it fun. I remember so fondly those afternoon beers that turned into breakfast the next morning, the nights in with giggles, the Guiri Whoa moments. And the hard, hard goodbyes.

But the first three years in Seville were also marred with problems and annoyances: I had to live with roommates, learn to light a bombona, factor shoes into my budget and live off of dry pasta and tomate frito. The Novio and I broke up. I struggled with knowing if Spain was a good idea or a waste of my time. I was doing a job that was easy, yes, but not as fulfilling as I had hoped. 

All of those soaring highs were met with desolate lows. I had to decide to love it or leave it.

Making the decision to spend the rest of my life in Spain meant my days went from siesta and fiesta to frantically looking for a job and spending wisely. Then came nóminas, afiliación a la seguridad social, pareja de hecho, car insurance, sick pay and all of those other “adult” words.

I was living my dream of becoming fluent in foreign bureaucrazy and those of becoming a champion siesta taker seemed to fade away. I had made the transition from language assistant to a full-fledged member of the work force practically unscathed (but very, very poor).

As I adjusted to a full-time schedule and work commitments, I began to miss the old me, the girl who never turned down plans for fear of missing out, who would leave on the next bus out-of-town on a whim. Friday night became catch-up-on-sleep night, and Sundays were devoted to lesson planning. I began to lose sight of the things that were important to me and took out my angst on everyone from my students to my suegra.

Something wasn’t right, and I needed to make a change.

I found myself longing for the Spanish life I had before the private school, even with the stress over money and friends and language and life direction. I wanted to enjoy going out and enjoying Seville without just going through the motions.

So I chose. I chose a pay cut and an arguably less prestigious job and the uncertainty of the job market in the throes of a financial crisis. I chose to be happy and to open myself up to other opportunities, lest it be too late. Even with a master’s and a job and a blog and a boyfriend, I managed to regain a sense of myself and purpose. I realized that I end up setting my own limits for work, relationships and happiness.

Life continues as normal for me, six years after moving to Seville. When I pine to not be tired at midnight and to live close to the action of the city center, I remember everything that came along with it: language frustrations, scrounging for money, sharing a flat, drinking cheap and terrible liquor and eating cheap and terrible food.

I finally have a work-life balance that I craved during the first five years I lived here. Like Goldilocks, it seems I finally have found what is just right.

 

I may miss the carefree days where I could siesta for three hours and never have to worry about what to do on the weekends but how to fit it all in and under budget, I freaking miss my friends.

but at 28, it’s not me anymore.Whenever the pangs of nostalgia hit, they’re quickly quelled when I reflect back on how much I’ve accomplished, how much of the world I’ve seen for choosing plane tickets over drink tickets, and remember that I’m where I intended to end up.

Do you get nostalgic for your study abroad days or college days? How do you cope?

Seven Indispensable Pieces of Advice for Moving Abroad

If your New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to become an expat, you’ll join thousands of countrymen leaving the country (or, if you’re American, fleeing Obamacare). While expat life is uncertain, fulfilling, thrilling and, at times, mundane, it’s often a day-to-day challenge.

Information and preparation are really your best tools.

Making sure you’ve got everything in order before boarding the plane will help make your transition to expat life a bit smoother, even past the euphoria period of your first few months. Take advantage of the free resources you have around you, from your local library to websites devoted to expats. HiFX, a great resource for all those hoping to move abroad, has asked me to contribute to their Expat Tip Page to help make the transition into life overseas for future expats as easy as possible. After agreeing to contribute to the expat page in a couple of weeks, I realized that I actually have lots of tips for people looking to move abroad, so here are some invaluable tips I think all future expats should know.

Don’t start packing until you’ve considered the following:

Got a Passport?

No? Get one.

Yes? Is it still valid?

You passport will serve dozens of purposes when you first move away, so it should be up-to-date, valid for at least six months from departure and in good condition. In Spain, I had to use my passport to sign up for my residency card, prove I could rent an apartment, open a bank account, and travel outside of the EU. It’s one of my most important belongings, and has even had to get new pages put into it.

Visas

If you’re planning on a long-term move, you’ll more than likely need a visa. Some tourist visas are good for six months or even a year, but if you’re planning to work, buy property or study, a tourist visa won’t cut it. Contact your nearest consulate for the requirements necessary, and work to get them together as hastily as possible. Some visas can be sent away for, while still other require multiple trips to the consulate to present and pick up your visa in person.

It’s all good practice, really – in Spain’s case, the waiting will become part of everyday life!

Live the Language

Language can be an Anglo expat’s biggest nightmare if English is not the commonly spoken language. Thankfully, the web is home to countless resources, including podcasts, practice exams and videos and songs. I always suggest to my students that they read or watch something that they’re interested in in English, and doing the same helped me learn Spanish. Check out Notes from Spain and Note in Spanish if you’re into Spanish – it’s a great resource for not just words, but also images and culture in España.

Many big cities also have free language courses or refugee centers, and chances are there’s a native speaker you could invite for a coffee. I checked out books and films from my local library to pick up a few extra words and phrases, which sparked an interest in reading travel memoirs. If you’re creative and willing, the possibilities will come.

Money Matters

Dealing with money is more than just learning to translate your dollars into foreign currency – let your bank and credit card companies know you’ll be away long before you go, research foreign accounts, and if you’re making money abroad, considering opening a separate account in your home country for card payments, student loans or miscellaneous costs that may come up while away. Again, knowledge is power.

In addition, I always make sure to have a small amount of local currency on me when traveling back to the US or Spain, as well as traveling outside the Euro Zone. This way, you can get public transportation to your city or buy a coffee on a long layover without the hassle of changing money.

Making Contact

Your home country will likely have an embassy and one or more consulates in your new country. Be sure to register with them, particularly if you’ll be settling in a place prone to political unrest or natural disasters – it the event that evacuation is needed, you will be registered and given help.

Americans can sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows constant contact with US embassies abroad. I’d venture to guess that many ambassadors and their staff are also on hand for visa processing, passport renewal,

On that note, be sure to email other expats in your preferred destination to establish a pre-departure network for both information and the almighty rant session when you can’t figure out to unlock your phone/don’t get anywhere with bureaucracy/aren’t sure if you can get your favorite products from home. Expat circles can help you through tough times and get you on track when you first arrive.

Staying in Contact

On my first trip to Spain, Skype hadn’t been invented and many Spaniards didn’t have computers at home – I’d have to use phone cards or local Internet cafes to call home! Nowadays, technology has brought the world together through smartphones and broadband.

 Consider unlocking your mobile phone for use abroad, study up on plans in your destination country and set up a listserv or email to let your loved ones back home know what you’re up to. Expats will often list missing friends and family as one of their biggest complaints, so making a conscious effort to stay in touch will help ease homesickness tremendously.

Attitude is Everything

As someone who constantly sees the glass as half full (and has already ordered another one), I think my attitude and grit has allowed me to deal with the frustration, disappointment and headaches that can come from living across the pond. Realize that not every day will be new, or exciting, or even fun. Know that it’s normal. Be open to new opportunities and learning from others. Enjoy it.

All tips listed here are my own because, well, I’ve been through them!

Are you considering becoming and expat, or have you lived or worked abroad? I’d love to hear your tips, as I sometimes deal with expat angst – even after six years!

Seville Snapshots: PINC, Seville’s Networking Group for English-speaking Professionals

How many times have you said to a friend, ‘You really have to meet Pepa [or María, or Julie, or whoever]?’ As the resident fair godmother of guiris in Seville, I meet women constantly, causing the Novio to think I have a secret loverboy on the side.

From this idea, plus encouragement from my friends Lauren of Spanish Sabores and Stacey of La Guiri Habla, PINC was born. Well, actually, PINC was born a year before, in Madrid, with a woman called Lisette Miranda. Tired of mere social groups in Spain’s capital, Lisette began a professional women’s group, designed to mentor, inspire and connect English-speaking women in Madrid.

With her blessing, Seville got its first professional group under the PINC Umbrella, and we held our first meeting on October 25th at Merchant’s Malt House. Fourteen women were in attendance – several teachers and academy owners, a hostel owner, a life coach and one interested in non-profit. We introduced ourselves and our products and projects, Lisette gave us a crash course in making our Linked In profiles attractive to employers, and we shared a cocktail and networking session afterwards.

Meetings will be monthly, held on a Friday at 8p.m., in the same format. The goal is to collaborate, inspire and educate. Members will take turns sharing a skill that they’re an expert in, allowing everyone to learn something new and hopefully open their minds to tapping into a skill they didn’t know they had. Our November meeting will be held on Friday the 22nd at 8 p.m. at Merchant’s, and you can sign up to attend here: http://doodle.com/4diusq7qgtf6457urq5dsug2

Interested in PINC? Please contact my thru my personal email address or through my Facebook page so that I can add you to the list! PINC is open to an English-speaking woman in the Seville area.

The Guiri Complex (Or, Why I Can’t Have It All)

The other day, Seville was held hostage by light rain. I did a bit of puddle jumping, nearly taking out morning shoppers and walkers with my umbrella as I ran to catch the bus. The bus, in its normal fashion, stopped down the street and stayed there for five months.

As I tried to catch my breath, a man in his 70s covered me from the light sprinkle. He reeked of cigarettes and anise, just the way I like my Spanish abuelos. “Ofu, what a day,” he hacked, a small chuckle caught in his throat. We smiled at each other for a few moments before he offered a bit more, “Look at that bus, getting caught in traffic. People here don’t know what to do in the rain.”

It was my turn to chuckle. Being from Chicago, we’re used to two seasons in the year (winter and construction on the Dan Ryan) and four in one day. I can withstand heat and bitter cold, have survived three tornadoes and even learned to drive in the snow when I first got my driver’s permit. Upon mentioning this, the old man’s eyes lit up. “But your Spanish is impeccable! You may, in fact, be more sevillano than me!”

Aha, there it is. Whenever I seem to be out doing my normal guiri thing (in this case, picking up some forms for the academy), people stop to talk to me. Most are keen on touting my Spanish or are shocked that I moved away from home so young. Y tus padres? They ask, unable to fathom how a child would leave the comfort of their parents’ home, where laundry is done for them and tupperwares full of food dished out.

When my parents were visiting last year, my habits puzzled them. How could I be hungry at 3pm? What do you mean stores aren’t open on Sundays? You really do take a siesta? I didn’t come to Spain to simply hang out and learn some Spanish. I never set out to be Spanish or change my habits, either. What’s funny is that, the longer I live in Spain, the more American I seem to feel.

Just recently, an American food store opened up right in the center (and, ironically, in the same locale where I bought my flamenco dress). The chatter amongst my guiri friends was electric, with everyone sharing pictures of their goodies from the cell phones. When I announced, “I’m kind of against the store,” I got puzzled and even annoyed responses. How could I not love paying 2,50€ for two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (I kid, and I almost did, except for that I already had some at home!).

Here’s the thing: the trips the Novio takes to the US always bring American gifts and the special treats my friends bring me on their visits are treated like contraband. I’ve left an entire box of Do-si-do Girl Scout cookies nearly untouched – I love opening my cupboard for some sugar to see them there. The Novio dutifully recites back what he needs to bring for Thanksgiving on his upcoming trip (and, bless his heart, he bought me new skivvies this summer at VS – it must be love), and my mother knows intuitively that I will always need greeting cards when she sends me a package. Just like in the Hunger Games, American Parcel Day means I won’t go empty-stomached.

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, vanilla extract, economy-sixed boxes of Cheeze-its. The Novio would take me, wide-eyed and fistful of dollar bills, to the American part of his base for the contraband, usually in the form of cans of Dr. Pepper and ranch dressing. The anticipation of these trips would build and build until I’d consume the overly sweet soda, usually after hitting the gym (I don’t feel guilty, in case you were just wondering).

What’s more, I’ve finally gotten cooking and baking with limited resources more or less figured out, and having all of those things so readily available would take the fun out of it.

Another case in point: When I visited my cousin for Oktoberfest, I nearly had a heart attack when we went into the grocery store on her Army base. For the first time in a year, I was technically on American soil, but my carry-on restrictions meant I had to pick and choose the most important goodies. Reese’s, Funfetti cake mix and cranberry sauce made the cut, and I almost sighed from relief that I didn’t have much room between Camarón and the dirndl. When I enquired about German beer, Christyn said it was only sold in the nearby gas station. Apparently Bud Light > Paulaner (wtf).

I think there’s a big difference between me and them: They came for work and because the Army required time abroad at one of the overseas bases. I came because moving to Spain sounded like a fun way to skip out of America for a year. I didn’t come for anyone but myself; I came for the adventure and the chance to learn Spanish, and I stayed for the culture, the challenge and the Novio (duh, and the food).

Perhaps it’s the fact that Seville continues to modernize, taking with it some of the old world charm that had me so smitten in the first place. As my friend Mickey pointed out, there were no Starbucks when she came to Seville eight years ago, and now there are three on the same stretch of street (and this was once my homesickness remedy). Souvenir stores have elbowed out century-old hardware stores in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, and there’s English everywhere I turn. My ciudad de alma is starting to seem a lot like any mid-sized American city, and it’s stinging a little bit.

But don’t get me wrong: I relish in the fact that the TDT finally works and I can watch TV in English. Hamburgers, guacamole and roast chicken get made just as often in our home as fabada and tortilla francesa do. I speak just as much English each day as I do Spanish. America is where I lived the first 22 years of my life, and I consider it my home.

There’s much more to it than looking the part with my freckles, blue eyes and reddish hair against the dark Andalusian beauties. The first time the Novio saw me in a flamenco dress, his eyes lit up a bit, and then he just laughed at a beef-loving American stuffed into a traje de gitana. Try as I might, I look the part and even act it. Nevermind that I am a card-carrying resident of the EU, that I belong to a country club and that my partner serves in the Spanish military. I still believe that arriving on time is late, that one can only stay up so long on weeknights (even when she works at 3pm) and that the 4th of July is the best damn date on the calendar because, let’s face it, I love hot dogs and fireworks more than jamón and bullfights.

The Guiri Complex is just that: the inability to really feel like both of your feet are in the same place. My heritage and my native tongue make me a hot commodity in Spain, meaning I’ll always have a means to stay here and work. I’m the lovable friend who makes language blunders and bakes brownies for birthdays, the affable guiri, or foreigner,  in the group.

My friends back home think that living in Spain must be romantic and full of sunshine and trips. It is and it isn’t. If I lived in America, I’d be working, paying bills and contemplating what to make for dinner. I do that in Spain, too. The currency I use for the ingredients for that dinner are bought in euros and sometimes have funny names, but it’s really no different. In fact, I’m often jealous that my friends are all so close to one another, can be at one another’s weddings and make a salary that allows them some luxuries.

I sometimes feel like I live in a strange cross between everything I knew as a kid and the excitement of experiencing a new culture and language from the ground. I still cling to my American traditions and comfort food, but have adopted new holidays and a more adventurous palate. I’m constantly torn between two places where it feels like my heart belongs: Seville and Chicago.

Do you experience the guiri complex? Are your feet in just one bucket, or in both? And how do you cope?

Preguntas Ardientes: Is an International Bank Account Right for Me?

I get loads of questions from you guys about moving to Spain and settling in, how to handle money and how to learn Spanish (and what to eat, duh). Up and moving to any country has its own set of headaches – both before and after – and I try and answer as best I can when readers ask questions on everything to how to work in Spain to how to deal with homesickness. That’s where Preguntas Ardientes comes in – a series dedicated to the ins and outs of expat life in Iberia. If you’re curious or have a burning question, email me at sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] com – I’d love to hear from you!

Recently, the Novio and I were at a gala for his squadron’s anniversary. Most of his coworkers are aware that his partner is foreign with a flair for sevillanía, so I often become the center of attention during cocktail hour when they shoot a million questions at me (and I’m really more interested in the canapés, jerks).

The most common? What was the hardest part about moving abroad? After adapting to the language and finding friends, the most challenging part of daily life was money (and it’s something you guys ask me about often, too!).

I had and still maintain an income in Spain, whereas as all of my bills were linked to accounts back in the US. I had no idea how to pay taxes in either country (or if I even needed to), and transferring money between euros and dollars soon began to eat into my savings account. Having one foot in two places can be difficult – but then again, I expected to be in Spain for just one year.

While I have kept three bank accounts in two different countries, I never considered offshore banking or international accounts. No, this isn’t the stuff of international spies or crime rings, but a convenient way to handle your money while abroad thanks to flexible options and lower costs of account maintenance.

Let’s face it – Spain is a country that has a high international population, and these people often have ties to their home country – both mentally and financially. For expats who still receive payments of benefits from their home country (such as retirement or payouts, or even freelance work), considering this type of service is one of the biggest benefits of an offshore savings account. You don’t need to worry about converting dollars to euros to pounds and back in your head, nor deal with spending more money to make transfers between bank accounts, as an international account will allow you to do this all for a small monthly fee.
Is an international bank account right for you? If you’ve still got one foot in each bucket, then it’s worth considering. If you’re looking for extra perks, such as travel insurance to cover you wherever you go, then you should more than consider it. Sometimes, you can get more financial benefits from having your assets in just one account, rather than splitting them up between different institutions. Doing your research really does pay off (I love puns and you should, too).
Do you have an international bank account? How does it work for you?
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